From QR Codes to a Poetry Debut: Creating the intimate, distant, and exacting with Emily Marie Passos Duffy

Emily Marie Passos Duffy is a poet and itinerant performing artist. She was a finalist for the Noemi Press 2020 Book Award and a finalist of the 2020 Inverted Syntax Sublingua Prize for Poetry. She was named a 2020 Disquiet International Luso-American fellow. She earned her MFA at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. She is a collaborator with Writers Warehouse, a mobile writers’ community resource, and co-founder of Flores de Maracujá, a collaborative Lisbon-based arts project. She is a PhD student in Translation Studies at the Catholic University of Lisbon. Her first book of poetry is forthcoming with Perennial Press.

O: When did you begin writing? 

Emily:  I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and, before that, storytelling. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

E: This is a tough question because there are so many writers I admire who have helped me along my way. I was named after Emily Dickinson, and she has been a huge influence on my capacity to imagine through poetry. The fiction of Dominican-born modernist Jean Rhys, helped me give myself permission to be pathetic (and to understand the curious power in that stance). Stephanie Kaylor and Rachel Rabbit White are present-day poetry titans in the realm of writing on erotic labor, in my eyes. Irene Silt has written some of the best prose on sex work and anti-work I have encountered. Shauna Barbosa and Lucas de Lima are also big poetic inspirations. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

E: Intimate, distant, exacting. “Exacting” because I like to say things precisely. I want my words to create an atmosphere, or a vibe, and also be very direct and sharp in some ways. Intimate and distant are paradoxical words I’d place on two poles— and playing with formal choices helps me explore that tension and write into the space between… kind of like seeing a city from inside versus above or just passing. I like to toggle and move around like this— like how would this emotion or experience be rendered if my face was right up against it…. how would I write it from far away?  

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

E: My favorite part is the flow, presence, and devotion that comes through making. There is lots of doubt, sure, and also a surrender — to a hope that no matter what happens it’s going to turn out as it’s meant to. 

O: Your work is riveting, authentic, and thought-provoking. Where does your inspiration come from? 

E: I love those words! My inspiration comes from travel, family stories of migration and survival that I’ve inherited, half a decade of stripping, my femininity, my queerness, the practice of walking in cities, my anger and dissatisfaction with and also love of, this violent, beautiful, surprising, and oftentimes, bullshit, world. 

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

E: It’s not necessarily a favorite, but it’s one I’d like to share. A little over a year ago I started a monthly newsletter as a way to connect with people at a different pace than Instagram offers. I publish it once a month—the theme is big moods// disquietude. This has been a really rewarding endeavor. The monthly schedule keeps me accountable to my own writing practice, and it’s a way to offer an unmediated and intimate piece of writing and let people know what I’m up to, what I’m listening to, reading, etc. I love hearing from people that receiving it has brightened their day. 

O: Of course, we have to extend our sincerest congratulations on your upcoming poetry collection, Hemorrhaging Want & Water, which is going to be published with Perennial Press! Could you take us through your journey of publication with them and what you’re most excited about with this collection? 

E: Thank you!! From the moment they accepted my manuscript and notified me of their decision, Perennial Press has been attentive, collaborative, and nurturing. I have felt incredibly empowered as an artist throughout this process and I am so grateful to everyone involved.  

The thing that feels most exciting is that, once it’s out there, this book is going to have a life of its own. I can’t even begin to imagine the experiences that a reader may have with it, which is both terrifying and really, really cool.

O: If there could be only one (though we’re sure there are so many), what is the ultimate takeaway that you want readers to have by the final page of this collection? 

E: Hold your eighteen-year-old self gently by the hand. 

O: Outside of writing, you’ve also worked with Writers Warehouse and spearheaded Flores de Maracujá. For readers who might not be entirely familiar with either of these, could you give a little background on both organizations and talk a bit about your work there—e.g., what your favorite parts of your role are, and why you were motivated to join or jumpstart these organizations? 

E: These have been more projects than organizations. For me the word organization implies something fixed or institutionalized, which neither of these projects are. Writers Warehouse was founded in 2016 in Boulder, Colorado. You can read more about the history and our work here. My favorite part of Writers Warehouse has been working with Ellie Swensson, an incredible infrastructure poet who is now doing research in the field of urban planning. Our workflow has always prioritized resting when we’ve needed to, which challenges the notion that successful community endeavors have to be long-term or perpetually sustained. 

With Flores de Maracujá, Inês Oliveira and I are creating a body of work that promotes sensuality, big feelings, and communal play. We’ve sold our pieces at fairs in Lisbon, and exhibited one in the east window gallery in Boulder, Colorado. We are still making visual pieces that combine drawing, collage, and typewriter poems, and we’ve also pivoted to organizing seasonal events with food, music, and art. What motivates me in projects is the generative spark that comes from collaboration, from dreaming and making together. Each project or event carries the signature of all of those involved. 

O: You’ve also completed a recent project which involved poetry, public space, and… QR codes?! Please tell us more about this project! 

E: This one was a lot of fun! I placed QR codes at miradouros, or lookout points, throughout Lisbon. The QR codes led to google forms which contained poetry prompts people could respond to; for example, one prompt was, “describe the view using only colors.” I got lots of gorgeous responses in many different languages and only one “go fuck urself” which is a great ratio for any anonymous public forum. I created a collective poem from these submissions with an accompanying video. I also wrote an original poem for each miradouro included in the project. So far I’ve written seven miradouro poems, and I intend to keep going. I collaborated with German student and multidisciplinary artist Katharina Sonneberg, who I’d met through a mutual friend. I was describing the project to her over coffee and she resonated with the idea so much she ended up creating a collage for each of my miradouro poems. This project was part of an exhibition called Sensing the City- Sense of the City which was an inter-city joint venture between Berlin and Lisbon. 

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, whether it’s about creative processes or finding their voice, what would it be?

E: Don’t let older men with advanced degrees and god complexes tell you what is good writing or what you are capable of! Do, as I remember poet and educator Tongo Eisen-Martin saying during a summer writing program at Naropa University: “write about the shit you see that no one else does.” The things that make you feel strange, alone, or different— dive towards them. Try to language them… eff the ineffable. Find writers that you like and nourish yourself with their words. Nourish yourself also with other creative practices so you don’t get too discouraged when language is inadequate to hold the totality of what you long to express. And keep writing! Show up for writing like it’s your lover—like you care a lot and want to make it coffee in the morning. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

E: Definitely subscribe to my newsletter for updates, upcoming workshops, readings, etc. I  have a couple of nascent translation projects in the works so stay tuned! 

Thank you to Emily for sitting down to chat with us about everything from writing to learning to life! Find out more about Emily and her amazing work by checking out her newsletter and Instagram.